I realised that most people come to my blog to read my writing. So in an effort to start 2019 in a productive way, I’ve decided to axe ‘Styles’ – my least popular segment – for ‘Shorts’, which will focus on my short story writing.
The aim of this section will be varied; most of the time I want to use it to focus on my ‘Places we Belong’ series, but sometimes I might experiment with ideas for novels, or even just write an unrelated standalone short story on a random topic.
Valeria looked at her notes from the last meeting and tutted. Her RSI was acting up again, and despite her preference to take notes on the laptop she’d been asked to do it by hand. Apparently people found the typing too distracting in the boardroom. Her words were increasingly abbreviated, some becoming merely wavy horizontal lines with a few loops, crosses and dots to punctuate them; others were a couple of letters that she clearly judged at the time sufficient for later deciphering. She realised now how wrong that call was as she cradled and flexed her right wrist.
“Could you send me those minutes and actions by COP today, Val? I need to approve them for the oversight committee.”
“Yes, should be fine,” Valeria lied. She hated being called ‘Val’, but Tony had been told several times before. At this point, it was easier to be a little offended than make it a problem. She hoped he at least remembered his husband’s name, and that the brain space she wasn’t taking up by correcting him was being used to power something important. Like decarbonising the energy sector, or whatever it is you actually do when you get to that level other than sit in meetings all day.
“What time’s my train to the industry reps meeting tomorrow?” Tony asked, and followed up with “Will I be able to get back in time for Emergency Response? You might have to book me onto an earlier train.”
“I’ll check,” Valeria replied.
“Can you do it now, sorry, I just need that peace of mind before the next thing, whatever that is – could you check my calendar too, where am I going?”
Valeria sighed. She wasn’t his PA, but his lack of one meant the job went to whomever was stupid enough to pay attention to him that morning. The budget for one had been sucked up into extra resource for the Primary Legislation team, and ironically, this extra resource was a man called Bill.
She leaned over her meeting notes to find the right window on her three-screen desktop, and could feel Tony standing right behind her. “3Q,” she said, hovering over a purple rectangle labelled “Project Madeira catchup”.
“Aren’t you in that meeting?” Tony asked, and in the next breath, “where in hell is 3Q?”
“Other end of the building. No, Paul said he’s going. I’ve got too much to do.”
“I’d rather you were in there to be honest,” Tony said, in a strangely complimentary tone.
“Paul’s been briefed, and you need the minutes. I have to update the plan.”
“Can’t Paul do that?”
“Paul won’t be able to read these notes.” Valeria grabbed at the notes, but they eluded her and fell to the floor as her leg went into a painful cramp. What little order remained had evaporated, and as she hadn’t had the time to put little numbers in rings to denote each page, she was going to have to do it the hard way, and there wasn’t time.
Tony leaned over to give her a hand, but Valeria waved his hand away. “You’ll be late to your meeting. Paul will be there already, just let me do this.”
“Fine. Can you chat me the train times please, when you get a moment?”
When I get a moment, Valeria laughed to herself.
She stood up again, papers in hand, and looked out of the first floor window. She imagined other people’s lives, not that she was so unhappy with her own. But it was repetitive. Unpredictable in the wrong places. Process-driven to a fault. Every decision made was not her own – and nor was anyone else’s. Everything needed to be approved by so many people that whoever was at the top was signing off something that had already been approved by ten other people.
Her deadlines were pressing, but still Valeria paused. It was January, but she pushed up on the glass and opened the window anyway. The still, cold air hesitated at the threshold, but she leaned out to feel its chill. She watched a couple on holiday with their two children. From somewhere warm, she supposed, given their excessive layering and darker-than-everyone-else skin tone. She thought about some other Valeria in another universe who had decided to have children, and how different her life would have been. How many ‘work from home’ days she’d get away with because of her kids, and whether she’d be happy with that husband, and the chaos and constant change children brought. She reassured herself she had made the right choice.
Her fiancé would be waiting at home for her. Sophie, the graduate intern, startled her by appearing at her right hand side. “Can you close this? Some of us are freezing,” she said, making no attempt to hide her displeasure at the cold. Valeria looked at the clock. She’d been staring out of the window for ten minutes. She turned and saw her computer, which had locked itself, echoing the time. Tony would be back from his meeting in twenty minutes.
In a fit of compulsion, Valeria plumped for a sticky note and a felt-tip pen.
LEFT EARLY, she wrote. PERSONAL EMERGENCY.
She stuck it to the left-hand desktop monitor and packed up her belongings, taking her laptop and pile of confused notes with her – she’d need something to do on the way. She replaced her kitten heels with a pair of black Nike trainers and took the stairs to the main exit. She brushed past a gaggle of men in suits and ties and VISITOR lanyards. Several of them looked over and locked eyes on her, studying her movements. Valeria accelerated through the gates and came to a stop at the bus stop, where the family were still standing. A number of buses had passed, but they were either confused or unlucky.
“Are you okay?” she asked of what she assumed to be the mother of the group.
“Fine thank you,” nodded the woman. “We’re just waiting for the 24.”
Valeria had seen at least two 24s go past while she was watching them from upstairs. She had to ask.
“I see. Sorry, but I saw you from my window a while ago – why didn’t you get on the ones that came?”
“Because we don’t need to be at my sister’s until later, and we didn’t have a plan.”
“But it’s so cold.”
“Yes, none of us have ever felt this cold before.”
Valeria waited with the family as they watched two more 24s come and go. It was a strange, oddly subversive feeling. At last, they got on the next one. Valeria waved them goodbye and watched two more 24s go by, before deciding to get on the one after that. She didn’t live this way; actually she needed a 100. But she didn’t have a plan.
When she boarded the bus, she went upstairs and opened a window. She pulled her laptop from her bag with all the notes, ready to type them up.
A whisper of cold air brushed her from the window. Valeria looked from the pile of confused notes to the window and for a moment, she felt utterly insane.
She ripped up the notes in two, and two, and two, and two again, stood up, and sprinkled them out of the window as the bus drove down the road, leaving a trail of nonsense behind her.